Monday, September 28, 2009

Canon 5D mk2 - my thoughts

The Canon Rebel Xti was my first DSLR. Up until I made that plunge in 2007, I had been shooting with film and scanning the negatives into high resolution files to edit digitally. The Xti was and still is a pretty decent camera and I have many good images in my catalogues to testify to that. I eventually moved up to the 5D after seeking better iso and image quality as well as wanting a full frame sensor. The Canon 5D is an excellent camera and will surely go down as a classic in years to come. Even after its release a few years ago it is still considered one of the best around.

Shown above is the 5D mk2 with optional battery grip

The reason I purchased the newer 5D mk2 was to have a good back-up camera which will now be the 5D with the mk2 being the main.I now have it for a few months and am becoming more familiar and comfortable with it. I shoot dance performances at times which is mostly in low light conditions and so the improved high iso quality and slightly faster FPS of the mk2 will be a good advantage. The huge increase in resolution was welcome but more importantly the increased DR (Dynamic range) Overall, this is a camera with all around better image quality than its already great predecessor. I have not used the HD video capabilities with this camera, and honestly really have had little interest in that aspect of it at this point. The 5D mk2 is a lot more than just an improved version of the older model. It really is basically an entire new camera from the bottom up. Obviously the 21 mp sensor is different and much improved but we also have a new and more durable shutter, new and more powerful processor, new and improved battery and battery management, larger LCD screen, automatic sensor cleaning (which is something we missed on the original 5D) seemingly better build quality, and a host of new features in layout, function and control... Oh, and yes the HD video capability and live screen LCD. First, the IQ (image quality) is fantastic and noticeably improved over the already capable and fantastic original 5D. I was able to shoot a flower in hard sunlight (just for the heck of it) and was shocked to look at it later on the computer to see that nothing blew out and the sensor handled the tough contrasty condition. There was no out of gamut color blow out,(purple flower) highlights were intact as well as detail in shadow areas. I was impressed. I am afraid now though that I may be tempted more often to shoot in poor conditions. . .not a good practice. The resolution enables amazing detail within detail. Oddly enough though, capturing a sharp image seems to be more of a challenge. It is thought that perhaps because the resolution goes so deep, that it is more critical for focus to be dead locked in or details will appear a bit soft. So, do not expect to buy this camera and be amazed that everything is so sharp! Quite the opposite, you really have to think about your technique and make sure everything is right to ensure the potential of the resolution and IQ. You would also want to be using the best glass to squeeze all the IQ out of this box.

High iso quality is amazing. I tried 1600, 3200 and 6400 and while 6400 certainly has evident noise and lower IQ it is very usable and welcome to have there if needed. 1600, and 3200 is very impressive. It is expandable to 12,800 and 25,600 but I would suggest only using these for absolute necessity. There is a good deal of noise and image quality loss.

What I like very much about this mk2 is the fact that I do not have to look at the digital display on the top of the camera (which is now slightly larger than the previous model) to make adjustsments to ISO, WB, focus and drive, as well as other settings. I always found it difficult to see what WB icon I was setting in that little display and to make iso adjustments, etc. Especially in a dark room or theater it was so difficult to see even with the little backlight that is has. Now, everything can be viewed and set and adjusted from the large LCD display screen at back. Simply press your funtion button on the back and the display will pop up large and clear on the lcd. Then you can scroll through the various setting and make whatever adjustments you need, quick and easy.

settings displayed on rear lcd

This was something I missed when I went from my Rebel Xti to the 5D. Everything was easy to adjust from the lcd screen and now so it is again with the mk2. Also, the iso is now seen in the viewfinder as well and by simply pressing the iso button easily with the index finger I can make adjustments to iso while never looking away.

Here is another huge plus - I can now make all adjustments on my 580EXll speedlite from the menu on the cameras LCD. Even in a complete wireless setup, which is what I use at times. The digital display of the speedlite was sometimes a challenge to navigate through. Selecting funtions and making the setting changes could be quite a task especially in a darker room. So now having all the speedlite funtions shown on the large lcd in clear display with the ease of the dials and toggles of the camera, making setting changes is a breeze. This is great. I can even go into custom functions as well as being able to adjust the power of the slaves in a wireless set up. Everything can be done on the back of the camera. Perfect.

Speedlite function controls on rear lcd menu

This proved to be very handy and a pleasure when I was working with artist David Jon Kassan in his studio on an upcoming project of his. Have a look at his site, he is an amazing talent and great person as well.

Another thing to mention, due to the extremly high resolution, RAW file sizes are huge. Approx 25-30Mb depending on setting and conditions. It may be that we don't need such large files for a particular assignment/task but would still like to shoot RAW to have the full IQ potential there for post processing. Canon has made it possible to shoot in one of three different RAW settings. RAW, RAW1 and RAW2. RAW is full 21 MP, RAW1 is approx 10MP and RAW2 is approx 5MP. All yielding the same great IQ but just reduced resolution and file size. Very useful and a welcome feature. FPS (frame per second) has increased by almost one to now nearly 4fps which is nice, but also amazing considering the huge files this processor must work with at that speed. I was amazed to fire off 11-15 bursts at this speed in full resolution. There is an indicator in the viewfinder that tells you the available bursts to be had at any given moment. Once you have reached the limit, there is a few seconds pause during which no shots can be fired as the processor is busy writing the data to the card. You would absolutely want to use a memory card of very high read/write capabilities to handle the load the processor will be giving over to it. I have been using the Sandisk Exteme lll and lV cards with no problems.

There are a host of other little features that are mixed in now with the custom fuctions such as "highlight tone priority" which puts emphasis on the highlights and tries to avoid blowing them out during exposure, but at the same time you will have less detail in the shadow areas to work with. . ."Auto lighting optimizer" which aids in getting your subject exposed correctly, "peripheral illumination correction" which adjusts for the light fall-off at the edges of the frame especially with wider angle lenses. "Long exposure noise reduction" and "high ISO noise reduction". All these functions seem to work fine, but I prefer to do all my post processing later in LightRoom/Photoshop. Basically, thats what these features are, post processing. I have them off most all the time. "Long exposure noise reduction" I might switch on if using a long exposure on a tripod for a night scene, etc. Well, so far I love the mk2 and welcome all the little changes in layout and funtion that I missed with the 5D. There are some other neat little features packed in here such as having the camera automatically switch ISO for you according to conditions, etc if you set it. Too many other little things to get into, but all in all this is a fine piece of work especially considering the price.


Image quality, resolution, features and functions, HD video, live view screen, large LCD screen, battery and battery management system, heavy duty shutter mechanism, powerful and fast processor with 14 bit analog to digital conversion, price. . .

I still wish Canon would place a mirror lock function switch on the back or side of the camera so as not to have to scroll through custom functions menus to get to it.


CreativewithClay: Charan Sachar said...

Thanks a lot for the review. I was debating whether to get a DSLR camera. I have been a loyal Canon buyer for years now. An SLR is a lot more for what I need now. I did buy the Canon SX200 and I am really impressed by it. My previous one was the SD50 and I loved that too. Canon rules!

Julie Magers Soulen said...

Interesting and in depth review! I'll not be switching brands (Nikon die hard) but I agree the Canon is a formidable camera. I looked at them pretty hard the last time around but wasn't willing to give up my favorite lens.

Julie Magers Soulen Photography
Blog of Note

willow said...

I am saving up for my digital dream camera, which until now, I thought was a Nikon. Hmm, maybe I should reconsider?

I love my current little point and click Canon PowerShot.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

It would be my dream to take photographs of a similar caliber as yours Gary, but I'm not sure if I have the patience to learn and adapt to all the new controls.

I have a Canon SX200 IS and love its portability - but an DSLR remains a possibility in the back of my mind.

Is your camera what you would recommend for someone coming from a Canon SX 200?

Thanks for such an informative post.

Sheila said...

My head hurts after reading all of that. I wish I had the funds to buy a luxe camera but I'm working on it. You put a lot of time and effort in writing this review and it is better than many of the major mags or ezines style.

Thanks for pointing me to Kassan's site. What an awesome website he has! I think he was featured in American Artist Mag too. What are you working on with him or is it a secret?

Gary Heller said...

This review is in no way an endorsement for Canon over Nikon. One could not go wrong with either of these two manufacturers. If it were not for the fact that I have already vested much into the Canon system, I would easly consider going with Nikon. That D3x and D700 are very tempting. It would be a tough decision.

Charan, the SX200 is a popular model and a very good camera. The built in IS is a big plus also.

Julie, big congrats on your "Blog of Note"! No way, it would make no sense to switch. Nikon is excellent, if only a bit more expensive than Canon.

Willow, no need to reconsider. Since you have not invested any money in either brands gear it would be best to choose a couple of bodies from each and head over to a store and hold them in your hand and see what feels right to you. You will be fine with whatever company you go with.

Bonnie, the camera I was reviewing here is not something you would go to from a point and shoot. At $3,000.00 for just the body alone, you would want to be making money from it or be an extreme enthusiast with lots of cash to spend. If you wanted to take the step up to a DSLR I would highly recommend the Canon Rebel XSi which can be had now complete with a decent lens for about $600.00 It will take excellent photographs and also has the live view screen which you might like since your coming from a P&S that has one.

Sheila, sorry to put your head in a spin :) I'll trade you my camera for your talent to paint. . .
Yep, David is awesome. Yes, he was featured in American Artist Mag and I think you can see it on his blog. Also a pretty cool video of him doing a live drawing session in Portugal. He is working on a tutorial DVD as well.
He is looking to do a self portrait and wanted specifically motion shots of himself with identifiable features, which was quite a challenge. He will be layering several shots together to create a composite from which he will use as the basis for his painting. I may post about it a bit later once he gets going with it.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Hey Gary: Thanks for taking the time to give your recommendations!!

willow said...

Thanks for the advice, Gary. I have photographic DNA in my blood. My ggg grandfather had a camera in the mid 1860s and each grandfater afterwards was a professional photographer. I can't wait to see what I can do with a "real" digital camera.

Gary Heller said...

My pleasure, bonnie.
Willow, so thats how you have all those great old photographs from generations on in the family.
Lucky you!

Victoria Bennett Beyer said...

The very beginning of your post reminded me of the agony of scanning slides...I don't miss it a bit, do you? As soon as I went digital, I wondered why I didn't do it sooner.

Gary Heller said...

Victoria, I do not miss it at all either. The only reason i did it was that i wanted the resolution and IQ and at the time this could only be had from a DSLR if you spent a few thousand bucks.
when the 10 MP Xti came out and it was under a grand, that pushed me over the fence, finally. I'll never return. . .

joanne May said...

Hi Gary,
I'm new to visiting your site.
I have just had a look at your photo's in your Etsy shop. I just think they are beautiful images.
I hope to visit you again, as I'm quite new to photography and learning about my new camera.
Best wishes, Jo May.

Tonya Vollertsen said...

Hi Gary, I just found your website and seeing the first image of your self portrait was such a stunning experience! Such a creative view! It took me a bit to wrap my mind around what was really going on. It's so fun, in this world of millions of images that bombard my senses, to see something that truly surprises me. Thanks! (P.S. My father and my sister are both named Gary, hers is Gari. He was an artist and photographer)

Gary Heller said...

Joanne, thanks for stopping by and taking time to leave your thoughts.
Tonya, I'm happy that you could figure out the self portrait on my website :)
Gari as a girl name is very cool, never heard that before.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that sounds like a very nice camera upgrade. When i update mine I will have to come back to this bookmarked page. Your dance photos are gorgeous!

Thanks for the well wishing!

Silver said...

hi gary,

i'm definately a loyal fan of Canon- i haven't got much complaints of the one i have altho i am tempted to upgrade to something better. Everytime i am about to get something i thought my friend had was cool, something even better comes around- !

Maybe the only way i may actually go and get a new one is when the present extremely outdated digital cam is broken.


Brayton Homestead Interiors said...

so much to know about camera- thanks- I am looking to upgrade and have more info to make an informed decision- happy photo taking....

Beholden-To-Nature (Kenna) said...

Is it terrible to admit that I purposely did not read all of this post?? ;) I read enough to know that, after reading, I too, might start dreaming on an upgrade, but I know how VERY not-in-a-position-to-upgrade I am right now! And, really... I *do* love my Nikon D300, but am not necessarily the Nikon die hard Julie is. ;) AaaaAAnywaayy...

I actually came by mainly b/c I remembered that last time (ages ago) I held a giveaway, you just missed it and were bummed. So... this is your official announcement, "Mr. Stewart"-- I'M HOLDING A GIVAWAY! A "Vow NOT to Recycle" Giveaway to be specific... (yes, you heard right). ;)

dana said...

All over my head...but perfect for the camera geek that you are Gary. My question....where is the picture of the purple flower? lol
Have you ever in your life posted a picture of a flower? I think not. I take this statement back, I remember one from long ago. You know I'm just giving you with it.